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Inching my way toward important art

By Paul Knowles

“Don’t worry,” they said. “There are ropes,” they said. Well, yes. Sort of.
I was with a small group of travel writers, on the north shore of Lake Superior. Our destination was Lake Superior Provincial Park, home of the fascinating Agawa Rock pictographs – 17th and 18th century paintings on rocks beside the largest of the Great Lakes.
Did I want to see them? Of course!


Should I have read more about them before I went? Of course! Because then, I might have known, as a Wikipedia entry states, that “They are located on a sheer rock face on Lake Superior.”

I’m not good with heights. In the same way that I am not good with having bamboo shoots inserted under my fingernails. Really, not good.

I also struggle with things that require a certain precise sense of balance. This has not always been the case – I used to walk beams in a barn, in the days of my youth – so I have to conclude that time and a tremendous enjoyment of food have changed my centre of gravity and thus my ability to be surefooted and properly balanced.

Of course, there are many who would suggest that I am unbalanced in other ways, and perhaps that has also affected my physical behaviour. I digress.

Before we arrived at the site, I was getting a strong hint that getting to the pictographs might be a bit dicey. But that’s when they – our wonderful hosts from Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma District – assured me that there were ropes.

We arrived at the site. There was a steep hike down to near the shoreline, then some clambering over rocks, and then, we saw the pictograph site.

They are not all that high above the waters of Lake Superior… perhaps only five meters. But they are, as Wikipedia so aptly suggests, “on a sheer rock face”. At the base of the rock face is a tiny ledge, with a crack running down the middle, and then the rock slopes steeply toward the water.

There is no other viewing area. To see the pictographs, you have to edge your way along the ledge, holding to whatever rocky handholds you can find – without touching the paintings, of course, which are vulnerable to human touch, and already fading because of water, wind and cold.

But what about the ropes, you ask?

Well, I assumed the ropes were attached to the rock face, to give me something to hold onto as I eased along the ledge. Nope. They are tied by one end to the rock below my feet, and hang down… to provide a point of rescue for all the visitors who fall into Lake Superior. Not encouraging. Not a source of hope, at all!

I did it. A fellow travel writer caught some photos of me, looking terrified.

When I finally got back on less threatening terrain, I found my shoulders were aching terribly from the tension of holding onto the rock face for dear life.

Was it really that difficult? No, not for everyone. Scary as heck for many, a bit challenging for some, a walk in the park for a few intrepid, well-balanced souls.

But that is not me. Me, I’m the guy clinging to a cliff, whimpering.

But I’m also the guy who saw those rare, wonderful, spiritual paintings – including the image of “Misshepezhieu”, the spirit of the water.

I wouldn’t have missed it. But some rope hand-holds would not have gone amiss.

For more information about everything “Soo”,